The brief time of Robert Howard's fame, it seemed, had quickly begun to tick away. A late-in-life decision by his father, however, would wind the clock again.
Shortly before his death in 1944, Dr. Howard, suffering with diabetes and cataracts, approached Dr. Pere Kuykendall, a colleague in nearby Ranger, Texas, with a proposition. In exchange for Dr. Howard's living out his remaining days working and living at Kuykendall's clinic, he promised to will all his belongings to his employer. Aware that his infirm friend was physically and emotionally spent, Kuykendall agreed, never expecting that Isaac Howard's estate might actually be of any substantial worth.
Certainly, he had no idea at the time that among the things that would be willed to him were the rights to the strange works of his old friend's writing son.
It was not until the early '60s that L. Sprague de Camp, a gifted young Pennsylvania novelist now leading a reclusive life in Plano, discovered Robert E. Howard and Conan and set about to resurrect the legend of the all-but-forgotten author and his most famous hero. On assignment from Gnome Press, a small publisher of fantasy and science fiction, he polished several previously unpublished Howard manuscripts, then set out to complete stories the late author had left unfinished or had written only brief outlines for. In time, de Camp had not only breathed new life into Howard's career but also turned Conan into an industry. Such was the market for paperback Conan tales that dozens of writers were ultimately hired to turn out new novels "based on the character created by Robert E. Howard." The bylines of authors Bjorn Nyberg, Lin Carter, and current fantasy best-seller Robert Jordan are among those that have appeared on the more than 50 Conan books that have reached the marketplace.
Also figuring prominently in the resurrection was Pasadena, Texas, paper-mill employee Glenn Lord, whose efforts broadened the market for Howard material and advanced the heirs to the author's work from financial windfall into a full-blown cash tornado.
"I began reading the Conan stories in the early '50s," Lord says, "and really enjoyed them. At the time there was very little known about Robert Howard, so I set out to learn as much as I could and see if I might be able to find other things he'd written." Lord soon began locating and buying copies of the old, long-gone pulps that had printed Howard stories. In time his search led him to the trunk in the California home of E. Hoffmann Price. The writer happily turned it over to him, and among the items Lord found inside were a number of unpublished manuscripts, including a half-dozen forgotten Conan tales.
With only enthusiasm and an endorsement from de Camp to offer, he suggested to the Kuykendalls that he serve as literary agent for the forgotten works of Howard. They entered into a handshake agreement that would last for 27 years. "My first year as agent for Robert Howard material," he says, "was 1965, and my commission on sales was $225.68."
Now near 70 and retired, Lord will not say what the Howard industry would go on to earn in the almost three decades during which he successfully negotiated numerous domestic and foreign book deals and movie and television contracts, as well as an agreement with Marvel Comics for rights to publish more than 500 editions of Howard-written and Howard-inspired stories, trading cards, and a line of action figures, plus T-shirts, coins, records, and art prints. Something in the neighborhood of a couple of hundred million dollars is a safe bet, says one Howard expert. And interest never seems to wane: USA Today recently reported that several studios are considering a new Conan movie, this one possibly starring World Wrestling Federation star Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.
And the beat continues.
A limited edition of Howard's Solomon Kane, illustrated by award-winning Chicago artist Gary Gianni, was recently released by a British publishing house and sells for $160 a copy. There is also a CD recording of three Howard poems available. A New York publisher calling itself Cross Plains Comics is producing a series of graphic novels based on Howard's writings, and a two-volume The Chronicles of Conan, including all of the original Conan stories, will soon be released by Orion, a British publisher. Current entertainment-world buzz suggests that a new television show, featuring Howard's King Kull and Red Sonja characters, and perhaps even an animated version of Conan are in the works. There are, in fact, now separate corporations for four Howard characters--Conan Productions, Inc.; Solomon Kane, Inc.; Kull Productions, Inc.; and the Red Sonja Corporation.